What Was 'Dance Fever?' Deney Terrio's Disco Showmanship Story

Entertainment | June 15, 2020

Deney Terrio and Motion on 'Dance Fever.; Source: eBay

Every week from 1979 to 1987 Deney Terrio and Motion brought Dance Fever into the homes of people across the country. Created by Merv Griffin, the series was born of disco and outlasted the dance trend long after it died. The dance series had celebrity judges who were of the time -- Sherman Hemsley, Barbi Benton and Herve Villechaize did the honors in the first episode -- and performances by artists like The Temptations and Rick Springfield. At the center was the competition, in which couples were given numerical scores based on originality, style, technique, and the all-important (though hard-to-define) "showmanship." Looking at the show today, it may seem like a relic of bad outfits past but at the time it was quite literally beaming culture into parts of the country where there was nothing but a bleak landscape.

Deney Terrio started dancing to meet women

source: 20th Television

Deney Terrio may not have been a household name in the late ’70s, but he was one of the most important people to disco culture. As the man behind John Travolta’s killer moves in Saturday Night Fever, Terrio was more than qualified to show off his moves and judge contestants on a weekly basis. For disco fans out in the audience, Terrio showed them how to cut a rug in new and exciting ways that could try out at the club week after week.

Terrio didn’t get into disco in order to make a quick buck, he says that if he was going to meet girls he needed to figure out how to move. He explained:

The great thing about having an older sister is she had girlfriends who spent the night. I would peek into the window and see them all dancing. I realized women loved to dance and started telling guys they needed to learn how to dance to get the girls.

Terrio got the job on 'Saturday Night Fever' by sheer will

source: pinterest

It wasn’t long before Terrio was winning dance competitions throughout California and wowing people throughout the dance world. Weirdly enough, dance competitions weren’t the thing that got Terrio into hosting a long-running dance competition - it was the film industry. Prior to the filming of Saturday Night Fever he met up with John Travolta’s manager Bob LeMond so he can show them his stuff. He explained:

I get there and am setting up the reel-to-reel and can’t get it to work. He was giving me the brush-off so I had to do something. I turned on the radio and found a station playing Kool and the Gang ‘Jungle Boogie.’ LeMond got on the phone with Paramount and the next thing I know they signed me to work on Saturday Night Fever with John Travolta.

'Dance Fever' brought disco to middle America

source: pinterest

Every week Terrio brought viewers along on his dance odyssey where couples competed against one another before eventually facing off against one another for a $25,000 prize. In between the competition portion of the show, Terrio and his two woman dance troupe “Motion” hit the floor to show the viewers at home how it was done.

As if that weren’t enough, Dance Fever welcomed guests like Rick Springfield and Rip Taylor to judge the couples or perform in the middle of the show. Rather than disappear when disco passed on, Dance Fever pivoted to feature music and trends from the 1980s that helped it last well until the end of the decade.

Getting on the show was pretty hard

source: 20th Television

Couples couldn’t just sign up for Dance Fever and expect to appear on television next week, there was a strenuous vetting process that was essentially a rough form of the competition that whittled down the field dancers to the candidates who were fit for television.

Preliminary auditions featured multiple couples performing their routines for local celebrity judges. Those who passed the test were sent on a paid trip to Hollywood where they competed for the big cash prize. Even though many of the performers were semi-professional dancers, rules on he show stated that they weren’t allowed to make more than 50 percent of their income from dance.

The series ended its run in 1987

source: 20th Television

After being on the air for nearly a decade, Dance Fever came to an end in 1987 with 234 episodes under its belt. It was a shame to see the series go off the air but it had a good run. In the last two years of the series Terrio was no longer the show’s host - Adrian Zmed took that honor - and the culture was moving away from dance competitions. For a series that outlasted disco and rode out new wave it made sense to wind it down as a new era of music took over the charts. Even so, Dance Fever will never die in the hearts and minds of those of us who love to let loose on the dance floor and strut our stuff to the greatest hits of the era.

Tags: Dance Fever | Deney Terrio | Disco | What Did He Do?...

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Jacob Shelton


Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.